On July 29, 2020, the Austin City Council, led by District 10 City Council Member Alison Alter, voted unanimously to proceed with eminent domain proceedings to acquire 11.39 acres of land along Bull Creek, near Spicewood Springs Road. During last week’s meeting, SOS joined with other environmental groups such as Clean Water Action, Save Barton Creek Association, Environment Texas, and the Sierra Club to encourage the council to act quickly to protect this environmentally sensitive property.
From an environmental perspective, this is a unique property. It is located entirely within the Critical Water Quality Zone and Water Quality Transition Zone of Bull Creek (one of Austin’s drinking supply watersheds), and it is also almost entirely encumbered by floodplain. By acquiring this property, the City Council will help mitigate future flooding risks downstream and avoid increases in stormwater runoff contaminants and erosion that might occur if the site were to be developed with the proposed hotel use.
City-ownership of this land will also be a huge benefit for endangered and threatened species habitat. Although this parcel will not officially be part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (“BCP”) system, it has been on environmental advocates’ radar for many years as an important acquisition to help complete the goals of the BCCP habitat conservation plan and permit. Completing the acreage preservation requirement of the Bull Creek macro-site is one of the last remaining requirements of the BCCP masterplan and the City’s obligations under the BCCP permit. After acquisition, SOS will encourage the City’s Parks Department to work with the BCCP to restore some of the tree canopy that once existed on the property for the benefit of the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo; however, even without these habitat restoration activities, preservation of the land would be a huge benefit to protect the springs that are immediately downstream of this property, which is habitat for other threatened species, such as the Jollyville Plateau Salamander.
We would also like to take a moment to re-thank Rep. Erin Zweiner, whose last-minute parliamentary skills, during the last legislative session, helped kill a harmful bill (HB 3750) that would have removed the City of Austin’s ability to regulate water quality on sites like this one, in the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. Without Rep. Zweiner’s action, this site would more than likely be a large-scale, luxury hotel, with buildings scattering the creek’s edge.
As Austin’s water watchdog, the Save Our Springs Alliance will continue to promote the protection of Austin’s watersheds. We are appreciative of every member of the Austin City Council for recognizing the opportunities of acquiring this property, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Council to protect creeks all throughout Austin.